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Local Casino Ethics Ordinance Nears Final Approval

Triin Q's photostream Flickr

The city council in Springfield, Massachusetts is poised to approve a casino ethics ordinance, but the city’s mayor has been silent so far on the issue.

The Springfield City Council is expected to give final approval at its next regular meeting to an ordinance that would put restrictions on public officials obtaining jobs at the new MGM casino being built in the city.  Supporters say it is intended to foster public trust in the municipal decision making surrounding the casino project.

The proposal has received two affirmative votes in a required three-step process to final enactment, but Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has declined comment on whether he will sign the ordinance when it reaches his desk.

" I will await the final version that comes from the city council, make the proper review and comment at that point in time," Sarno said when asked if he would sign the ordinance.

The council at its last regular meeting approved a key revision to the original ordinance. The amendment prohibits the councilors and the mayor from taking any casino job for three years after they leave elective office. The original proposal calls for a five-year ban.

The council’s General Government Committee recommended the amendment. Councilor Tim Allen, the chair of the committee, said seven of the 13 councilors attended a committee meeting to discuss the ordinance.

"What more important goal is there than to have confidence in government," said Allen.

City Council President Mike Fenton who sponsored the ordinance said he favored the five-year cooling off period, but was open to compromise.

"I think it sends a  very clear message, which was the intent," said Fenton.  " Springfield has led the state in casino development and will now lead the discussion in casino ethics.  It is important that a city of our size with our history and background be at the forefront of ethical responsibility and parameters associated with this development and that is what this ordinance will achieve."

Part of the “history” Fenton referenced includes federal investigations of municipal corruption in the first half of the last decade.

The amended ordinance was given so-called second step approval on a unanimous voice vote.  City Councilor Tim Rooke, who cast the only no vote the first time the measure was before the council, said he still has a “philosophical” concern about the ordinance.

"It should apply to anybody we ( the council) are involved with who wants a special permit or tax incentive financing, but that is not the will of the council," said Rooke.

The ordinance bars non-elected city officials who are determined to be “major policymakers” from taking a casino job for two years after they leave city employment.

The restrictions are in line with what the Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires of its staff members.

The Springfield ordinance does not specify any penalties for a violation.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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